There are two great reasons for Southern California marine mammal admirers to go whale-watching during the next few weeks: gray whale mothers and babies.
Though thousands of Pacific gray whales have already passed through on their way from Baja California breeding areas to Arctic feeding grounds, the season for cow-calf sightings has begun to peak.
This is also a time when more whales stick closer to shore (see image below).
Barring long periods of fog, sightings should remain fairly steady at least through April, and perhaps through early May.
Last year, volunteer spotters with the ACS-LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project on the Palos Verdes Peninsula counted 110 northbound calves from March 6 through May 14.
Through Thursday spotters had counted northbound 55 calves. That number should increase sharply over the next several days. Overall, project spotters this season tallied 671 southbound and 670 northbound gray whales.
Dana Wharf Whale Watching, which provided the accompanying image, announced earlier this week that it logged its 400th gray whale sighting, a landing record for one season. Dana Wharf reported sighting three cow-calf pairs on its morning run Friday.
There are about 20,000 Pacific gray whales. Their 10,000- to 15,000-mile roundtrip migration, to and from Baja California, supports whale-watching operations in Mexico and along the West Coast.
Earlier this season observers in Baja California lagoons reported an increase in the number of calves, so boaters should be aware that precious cargo is passing through, and tread carefully.
-- Pete Thomas
Top image, which shows a gray whale breaching off Laguna Beach, is courtesy of James Gresham. Bottom image, showing a gray whale mother and calf this week in the same area, is courtesy of Dana Wharf Whale Watching.